Every year the Irish Society of Chartered Physiotherapists holds a “National Move for Health Day” to promote physical wellbeing. When the campaign was to highlight the importance of proper posture and ergonomics to school children I had the pleasure of visiting 4 schools in North Kilkenny to give a talk to the pupils on this subject, and I must say it was a thoroughly enjoyable and rewarding experience. If only all my patients showed the same enthusiasm and understanding as the children of these schools.

I explained firstly who I was and what my job involves especially in relation to backs. The majority of the children claimed to know someone who complained of back pain. Surprisingly about 70% of 3rd – 6thclass students claimed to have experienced some degree of back pain already. This is alarmingly high when you consider that these children’s backs will hopefully have to serve them for another 70 – 80 years.

 

“Mr Boney”

I introduced the children to my model spine, who some of them christened “Mr Boney”.  I described why it is designed the way it is and how it functions. I then showed the children a healthy posture for Mr Boney in which the curve resembled the letter ‘S’ , and an unhealthy posture where he looked more like a ‘C’. All of the children immediately recognised how this posture looked bad for the spine and how it could be sore; it was amazing how perceptive they were and how they grimaced as if in pain and said ‘ouch’ when Mr Boney sat in a bad posture.

When I got the children to sit with an S curve in their back the entire audience seemed to rise up about 2” taller, but after a few minutes the children described how the posture was not comfortable.

They were quick to realise the reason, – they simply weren’t used to it and their postural muscles were weak. Some persisted and maintained the posture throughout the rest of the talk, others had to be reminded every now and then, but were quick to regain the good posture.

The teachers in the schools talked of the old days and how they were encouraged to bring their shoulders back and some of the children said they were often told to put their shoulders back at home. I explained to them the flaw in this advice. It is next to impossible to bring your shoulders back if your spine is in a ‘C’ curve; however if you imagine yourself being lifted up by the top of your head your spine adopts an ‘S’ curve and your shoulders should hopefully follow.

 

Mr Boney also demonstrated to the children how sitting in a ‘C’ curve meant that he was looking at the floor , and so in order to see what is going on around him he would have to strain his neck.

 

The world of technology

The majority of the children stated that they spent some time every week/day playing video or computer games, or watching television etc. Unfortunately our technological world encourages children to adopt sedentary positions in sometimes very poor postures. We discussed these and I showed the children what their various recreational postures can do to poor ‘Mr Boney’. I gave them some useful hints such as alternating which side of the couch they sit on, or sitting with their back against the couch on the floor rather than unsupported.

 

School Bags

Yes ! we definitely talked about school-bags, and some of the children did great modelling, showing how different ways of carrying your school-bag could put a massive strain on your spine. They also told us how the bag felt heavier or lighter depending on the way they carried it, and also how people who habitually carry the bag on one shoulder become unable to carry it on the other because they develop asymmetrically.

                                              

Hints about School-bags

Use a bag with 2 straps
Use both straps
If the bag only has one strap cross it over your head
Alternate which shoulder you carry it on
Leave as many books as you can in school
Only bring what pencils etc. you need
Empty out your bag weekly
Keep the weight of  bag less than 20% of your weight

 

Lifting

Some of the children demonstrated very effectively the correct way to lift. They were able to explain to the other children that an object feels heavier, and so puts more strain on their backs if it is held away from the body and picked up with straight knees as opposed to being picked up close to the body with the knees bent.

Some of the children expressed an interest in weight lifting and I told them that there is no place for lifting weights in anybody’s life until they are fully grown, as it is bad to put that type of strain on a developing body.

 

Exercise

I also talked about how important exercise is for your body and especially your back, and I got lots of awkward questions about what sports are good for you. This generation of children are very tuned in to health issues, some brought up topics such as prolapsed discs, osteoporosis, carbonated drinks being bad for your bones and the absorption of calcium. We really ought to give them more education in this area, because they really want to know.

This is the age when we can make a difference. If 9 and 10 year olds are demonstrating signs of weakness in their postural muscles, then surely we should be targeting the 7 and 8 year olds.

All the children had been told to wash their teeth every night and morning, yes all of them knew about the dangers to their tiny little pearly whites. None of them had been told to bend back every night and morning to protect their discs, none of them knew how to look after their backs,